New Order: Quality Time

by DuAnn Cowart



Standard disclaimers apply. The character you don't recognize as belonging to Marvel belongs to Alicia McKenzie, who has graciously allowed me to use her for the purposes of this piece. This is set in Alicia's Pantheon series. This story really needs to be read in that context. This is rated PG-13 for language.

It's good to see you, too, babe, but keep it down, I just got her back to sleep. Did you have a good time with Sam and the boys?

Yeah, I just bet. What did I do today? Well, after that meeting with G.W. this morning, Clare and I spent a little quality time together.

Well, *obviously* I survived, you idiot. But. . . nobody told me this mother thing would be this much work.

Don't laugh. It's not funny, dammit.

It's not.

Well, maybe it is. Just a little bit.

But I sure as hell wasn't laughing earlier.

I know, I know, it's my own fault. *I'm* the one that sent you away. You didn't want to go. I *know* that.

Dammit, Nate, you were driving me up the fucking wall.

Ah, shi- *shoot*, yes, don't give me that, I *know* she's listening in on the link, and I don't want her first word to be 'Fuck' any more than you do, so don't give me that. I know better. And that goes for Askani curses, too. If I've gotta clean up my language then you do too, mister-

Don't smirk at me.

It wasn't *that* bad.

Really. After G.W. left, we played for a while. She was a little fussy, but not too bad, all things considering. If she'd sleep more than an hour at a time-

I know, I know. You get up with her, too. But anyway, we had a . . . nice afternoon. These bags underneath my eyes are a fashion statement. Really. We had a great time.

We did. So *there*.

Don't give me that look. I am- I was one of the top mercs in the world, I still technically lead X-Force, I was one of your fu- fudging *Twelve*, Nathan, I think that I'm perfectly capable of looking after a month-old infant.

Even a month-old telepathic infant with potentially omega-class Summers genes and the entire mansion wrapped around her little finger.

Very funny, asshole. I hope she doesn't inherit your sense of humor. *Yes*, I can handle her.

Enough, Nate. Cut it *out*. You're beginning to sound just like your mot- Jean.

What do I mean? I mean that I'm sick of everybody acting like just because I'm not a frou-frou girly-girl that I can't take care of my daughter. I'm not gonna let her use my Glock for a friggin' pacifier, for pity's sake!

I'm *not* exaggerating. Everyone around this friggin' mansion sucks in their breath when I even pick her up, they're so scared I'm gonna drop her. And after what finally taking Apocalypse down did to you, they ought to be more worried about *you* than me.

I damn sure am.

I know, I know, that was months ago, and you're getting better every day. But Hank said you'd never-


. . . I'm not getting into this again tonight. Whether it was worth it or not is debatable, but destiny be damned, I'm too tired to talk about it, and anyway everything turned out well enough in the end, thank God. Literally.

Yeah, well, and you're changing the subject, as usual. As I was *saying*, quit with the pot-shots, Nate. I get enough flak about it from everyone else around here as it is, and I sure as hell don't need you doing it, too.

I can handle it. I'm her *mother*. I carried her inside me for eight months. . . I read all the books. . . I've got millenia of collective consciousness maternal instincts to draw from.

And, dammit, I don't need Jean to come running every time Clare needs to be burped. I'm new at this thing, yeah, but I'll figure it out eventually.

*sigh* I know she means well. She just- nevermind. All I'm saying is that just because I can handle a Mark 10 plasma canon like nobody's business doesn't mean I can't change a diaper, too. And there's no way in hell I'm ever gonna let anything happen to my daughter, so everyone can go ahead and relax, all right?

. . . I know you were teasing, trying to make me laugh. I know you didn't mean anything by it. I'm sorry, too. . . I'm just tired, and. . . listen, if you ever tell anyone I said this, I'll break your other leg, but if you want to know the truth. . .

After everyone left, and Clare had finally dozed off, I sat down beside her and got to thinking. And it totally scared the shit out of me. I mean, here she was- and she's so tiny, so small, so totally dependent on us- and all I could do was stare at her.

Stare at her, Nate. Stare at her and think of any of the billions of things that could go wrong.

I know you don't like talking about this. I don't, either, but. . . but on top of all the normal childhood dangers, with our line of work, with our history- even with Apocalpyse out of the way, there's still so much risk in our lives. All I could do was look at her, and think about that. . .

And wonder if one day the same thing's gonna happen to her that happened to me.

Or to you, for that matter.

Yeah. Something to think about, isn't it?

And that was when she started to cry.

Don't get that look. You can't be around to shield us all the time, Nate, and she's still so attuned to me. . . and don't worry, she didn't see anything really bad. The shields we raised around *those* memories of mine are way too strong for her to even sense, much less break through at this point.

All she knew was that Mommy was upset.

What did I do? What the he- heck *could* I do? I picked her up and held her to me and tried to clear my mind like you taught me. I tried to project calm, and comfort, and peace.

And then. . . I felt her again. You know how she used to 'talk' to me before she was born? Well, she did it again.

Those big blue eyes opened and fastened right on me, and I *felt* something soft and warm and silver brush my mind.

It was her, Nate. . . she reached out to me, and then she smiled.

She *smiled*, Nate. It was the damndest thing I've ever seen. Made me happy and heartbroken at the same time- so proud that my daughter's spirit was so pure and strong that she instictively reached out to try to comfort me like she did, and so terrified- oh, Nate, it kills me to know that one day that innocence will meet the ugliness that we've wallowed in all our lives.

But with her example before me, what else could I do? I just held her and tried to think of something to calm her down.

And then I remembered. . . damn, this is hard. . .

Nate. You know I don't have many memories of my childhood.. .and most of the things I do remember you know I'd rather forget. But. . . as I stood there holding her in my arms, rocking her back and forth, I remembered something. A real memory, Nate, not a recovered one- something that damn mind wipe left behind.

It just came to me. Snatches of a song my. . .mother used to sing to me when I was scared and afraid.

So I sang it to her. That kid's song about buying the baby a mockingbird. I don't even remember all the words, but I sang the ones I could, and hummed the rest. And no, before you even ask, I'm not gonna sing it to you. You know I can't carry a tune in a bucket.

Clare, though- she didn't seem to mind. She just reached up with one perfect little hand, and grabbed my finger, and burbled right along with me.

And right then and there I just knew everything was going to be all right. Holding my daughter, I remembered my mother, and . . . there just aren't words for what I felt just then. I felt. . .complete, like my life had come full circle. I wish. . .

I know. You, too.

And I'm telling you right now, I don't care what happens, Nate. As long as I've got a single breath left in my body, Mr. Fucking Sinister isn't touching this child, and neither are the leftover Dark Riders, or any of the thousand miscellaneous bastards that either of us has pissed off over the years. They're not gonna get anywhere near her.

I know she won't stay a baby forever, Nate. I know she'll have to grow up soon enough. But dammit, my daughter's going to have a childhood. We're going to give her that much, at least. She might have to face the world one day, but she'll do it with us behind her.

You're right. This is nothing we haven't said before. Just let me get it off my chest, ok?

. . .

And anyway, that's when your daughter decided it'd be fun to cry, gurgle, and make other assorted noises that were so loud that I couldn't help but wonder if maybe she didn't have a few Cassidy genes slipped in somewhere.

That was a joke, Nate. You're not the only comedian in this family.

Well, *I* thought it was funny.

And no, nothing was wrong with her. She was being loud because she wanted to.

Yes, I'm sure. I could tell.

A Mother knows these things.


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